Remember back in elementary school, when we all had to learn proper bathroom etiquette? There were ‘bathroom passes’ (one for boys and one for girls), and we had to politely ask our teacher for permission: “May I go to the bathroom, please?” When I had to pose that question, I would pray no one had noticed that I had asked for the bathroom pass three times over the last hour.
To me, the girls’ bathroom pass was an easy escape from a boring lesson. I took it for granted. I never once considered what I might have done had the teacher answered: “I’m sorry, but we don’t have a bathroom.”
The thought of not having a restroom, or even running water, in school these days sounds like a fast way to a lawsuit. But the truth is that most schools in developing countries do not have bathroom facilities, let alone separate bathrooms for girls and boys.
An essential aspect of the girls' education discussion is about why girls aren’t in school. It is easier—albeit just as heartbreaking—to acknowledge issues such as high school costs and gender inequality keeping girls from receiving education. But what about the less obvious reasons like the lack of latrines, running water, and sanitation?
This creates a huge problem, particularly for adolescent girls experiencing menstruation. Not having access to a bathroom is uncomfortable and often humiliating. Many girls decide to avoid school altogether and simply stay home. UNICEF estimates that one in 10 school-age African girls either skips school during menstruation or drops out entirely because of lack of sanitation.
And a recent article in The Hindu highlights the lack of latrines in one of our 10x10 countries: India. The writer bluntly and rightfully argues:
“What is the point of giving our children the Right to Education, if something as basic as toilets are not available in most schools? How can we expect women’s literacy rate to improve if young girls feel embarrassed to be in school after puberty because there are no toilets?”
In India, the Supreme Court has finally recognized the importance of sanitation in schools and given all twenty-eight Indian states until March 31 to build proper toilets. So far only four states have met ninety percent of their target.
Former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Anan once said, “Where schools have sanitation, attendance is higher, especially for girls.” That was in 2004. What is taking us so long to connect the dots? More bathrooms for girls mean more girls in school.
Girls around the world are ready and willing to learn! Through our friends at Plan you can help build a latrine that will give an entire classroom of girls another reason to stay in school. You are not only providing them with a basic necessity, but also acknowledging their right to dignity.